Question Everything… I Dare You

question-everything (1)Until several decades ago, most teachers thought that teaching simply involved filling a student’s head with information. Knowledge was ‘transmitted’ from an authority (the teacher) to a learner (despite the fact that the ineffectiveness of lecture-based teaching has been known for quite some time), generally by lecture. This thinking and practice are firmly entrenched in most classrooms despite the fact that the ineffectiveness of lecture only teaching can be very ineffective.                                                                                      Modern cognitive psychology tells us that learning is a constructive, not receptive, process. This theory of learning (constructivism) holds that understanding comes through experiences and interaction with the environment, and that the learner uses a foundation of previous knowledge to construct new understanding. Consequently, the learner has primary responsibility for constructing knowledge and understanding, not the teacher. In a constructivist classroom, the teacher is no longer the “authority” but instead is a guide or facilitator who assists students in learning in spite of the fact that the ineffectiveness of lecture-based teaching has been known for quite some time.

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The following was an email I received from a student this week which made me think about the notion of learning.

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Professor Buffo,

“I wanted to ask this question because it is very important to me. What I want to know from you is “what is the ‘one’ thing you really want students to learn from you?” I do mean this seriously. What is the most significant thing you wish or want for me to learn from you? I’m getting overly curious.”                                                                                                       Thanks for taking the time,                                                                                        (student’s name)

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I found this to be an interesting and valid question. What do we want our students to learn and if there is one significant thing you want your students leave your class with, what is it?                                                                                                                                         This was my response:

Dear _______, your question is well taken and much appreciated. It implies that you may have some questions regarding the final destination of class. Questions are good and voicing them even better.

First of all, let me say that learning is a process not a product. The experience of gaining knowledge or a skill really becomes a subjective experience. In other words, how I learn can be very different than how you learn.  That’s not to say I learn better or you learn better, just different. So one of the things I really would like you to learn is just that, we are both sharing the same journey, but may experience it in very different ways.  My role is to provide you information you may require depending where your journey may take you. It’s like me inviting you to a buffet table and telling you to help yourself, get what you want, take what you need, it may come in handy in reaching your destination.                                     So what do I want students to learn from me?

  • To keep asking questions
  • Be curious
  • Be mindful
  • Remain divergent in your thinking
  • Never be afraid to challenge someone else’s thinking
  • And always be open to change, for I believe change is the end result of all learning.

Thank you for your question and the opportunity to respond.                                             Regards,                                                                                                                               Sal Buffo

question-everything

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6 thoughts on “Question Everything… I Dare You

  1. We are stronger if we journey side by side. With a single leader we are more likely to lose our way . Side by side our vision is greater. We can actually hold hands standing side by side. Am I taking the analogy too literally?

    I think that we very often underestimate and under utilize the wisdom we find in a classroom. Sadly, when we try to use it, students complain that the teacher is not “telling them” the needed information. Not always, but often.

    Lots of unlearning needs to be done by students and faculty to get to a point of walking together and working as a team rather than the classic model of lecture to the masses. And it will take lots of hard work on everyone’s part.

    I like that you provided the student with more than one answer too. And they are all active enterprises, not solid factual rocks.

    • Thanks Todd, I agree, collaboration makes the best learning experience. No longer the notion of “my desk is bigger than yours” I share your vision of taking this journey, side by side..holding hands my be optional. 🙂

  2. What is the most significant thing you wish or want for me to learn from you?

    What an insightful question! I wish all my students were as engaged with their learning as yours seem to be. You probably know about this: http://www.edge.org/annual-questions but I was reminded of it when I read your response.

    I teach masters level students at a business school, and I am a cognitive psychologist specialising in adult learning. Sadly, my institution is not interested in educational technology. It is great to see so many of you working with and open education ethos.

  3. I concur with Mariana – I wish my students were as insightful as yours. Most are concerned about what they need to pass the class… sad, but true.

    I teach a variety of health and fitness courses. Within the health and fitness industry, there exists a lot of mis-information and myths surrounding exercise and nutrition. True, students gain a lot of information from our courses… but (as your student inquired) what should they *really* be getting out of the course besides a handful of facts related to cardiovascular training or chronic diseases?

    Personally (and professionally) I want students to have the skills to question everything (even me) I want them to succeed in filtering through all the health/fitness information and make decisions about their health/fitness journeys, accordingly.

    I teach mostly online now, but when I taught my courses face-to-face, I did an activity during the first day of class that supported your notion of “question everything”. I wrote on the board “Please grab a copy of the syllabus and stand by your desk.”

    In true fashion, students neglected to read the board. Some grabbed a copy of the syllabus, some didn’t. Most just sat down somewhere. So I just waited…

    Slowly, but surely, students started paying attention… “Why hasn’t she started class” they probably thought, as I stood silently by the podium at the front of the room. One by one students started standing up. If they didn’t have a syllabus already, they grabbed one quickly and stood by their desks. Once everyone was standing… I started speaking. This was about 10 minutes into the class.

    I introduced myself and asked students to do the same… 10 minutes.

    We went over the syllabus, in detail… another 10 minutes…

    Talked about course expectations… another 5 minutes…

    I could tell students were starting to get uncomfortable. Standing for 30+ minutes isn’t easy for most people. Some were shifting positions, those in the back started leaning against the wall — at which point, I would ask them to not lean against the wall.

    Yet, NO ONE ASKED WHY THEY WERE STANDING?! Weird right?

    So finally, I asked students to take a seat and share their physical and mental experiences they just had during the first half of class.

    Most said they were confused, their feet started to hurt, their knees were aching or back was uncomfortable. Some were frustrated, didn’t see the point; others felt more alert or aware of others/their surroundings, etc.

    My response was: So why didn’t you question why you were standing? Point being: in health, we often experience pain (some of which we don’t feel — like hypertension) that can lead to chronic diseases and physical illness. Why does one continue to do something if it is uncomfortable or not good for your health (knees, back, mind, heart, you get the idea)?

    The idea was to allow students the opportunity to question everything — and make health and fitness decisions (good or bad) based on the knowledge they chose to process during the course of this class – whether it was via reading the textbook, listening (or not) to me, participating in the field trips and course activities, etc.

    Health information changes. Also, not all exercise prescriptions work for every body. So, just because something is stated in the textbook today – doesn’t mean it won’t change. And even if the information is backed up by evidence-based research, it doesn’t mean it will apply and/or appeal to you, either.

    Just as Prof Buffo stated so eloquently in his letter to his student: keep asking questions, be curious, be mindful, remain divergent in your thinking, never be afraid to challenge someone else’s thinking, and always be open to change…

    With that… some students dropped my class. Others gained a renewed sense of authority and obligation to participate more mindfully.

    Great post!

    Biray
    (Exercise Science Adjunct Faculty @ MCC)

  4. Biray, thank you for your wonderful response. I loved the exercise you had your students do with the syllabus. I did something like that before a lecture on conformity. I’d go around and ask students to do things like, empty your purse or pockets, give me your pen, hold this cup above your head, crazy stuff like that. I waited for a student to ask why? No one did..Needless to say, we had a wonderful class discussion on conformity.

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